The show centers around research conducted over the course of seven years on three of Picasso’s early paintings. The project examined The Blue Room (1901), Crouching Beggarwomen (1902), and The Soup (1903) from the Art Gallery of Ontario, which co-organized the exhibition at the Phillips Collection. Traveling from its opening venue in Canada, the show will be the first devoted to Picasso’s Blue Period in Washington D.C. in more than two decades.
Though their efforts began in 2008 and continued until 2019, researchers and art historians from The Phillips Collection, Cornell University, the National Gallery of Art, and the Winterthur Museum revealed in 2014 that they had found a hidden portrait of a man in Picasso’s The Blue Room (1901), which features a woman undressing in a bedroom. Using X-radiography and infrared technology, conservationists unveiled an underlying image of a sullen man resting his face on his hand that Picasso had painted over.
From 1900 to 1904, the years that define Picasso’s Blue Period, the Spanish artist was in his late teens and early twenties between stints in Barcelona and Paris. Monochromatic blue works from the signature period reveal Picasso’s approach to a milieu of subjects that defined that early moment in his life, from the food deprived to jailed women and young prostitutes—depictions of which many historians and audiences have found controversial.
Technical studies inform the exhibition’s focus on hidden paintings that have been revealed beneath the three Blue Period works and examine how the Modern master later repurposed motifs from them in the early Rose Period (1905–1906). In a statement, Phillips curator Susan Behrends Frank said that despite Picasso being a deeply studied artist, there is yet more to be found in his work: “There is always more to discover within art history.”
“Picasso: Painting the Blue Period” will be on view at the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C. from February 26 to through June 12, 2022.